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Opinion: ‘Sister Act’ is rapturously entertaining comedy

February 14, 2013
The Herald-Star

PITTSBURGH - Fervent joy flowed throughout Pittsburgh's Benedum Center as a superfluity of jubilant nuns invited audiences to partake in their simple message of love and laughs as Alan Menken and Glenn Slater's musical comedy "Sister Act" recently illuminated the venue in a now-concluded run.

The musical, brimming with bouncy music, effervescent performances, and sinfully scrumptious extravagance, provided spectators with a simply heavenly theatrical experience.

As the light of Christmas embraces 1977 Philadelphia, darkness enshrouds the life of nightclub singer Deloris Van Cartier when she innocently witnesses a murder carried out by her boyfriend, the powerful owner of her place of employment. Afraid Deloris will alert the authorities to the crime, her revenge-seeking boyfriend and his trio of gangsters set out to claim her as their next victim. But how could a modestly-attired holy sister ever be suspected of being one-and-the-same with the glamorous Deloris? Hidden away in a local convent and disguised head-to-toe in a nun's habit, which she disgustedly likens to a penguin, the stir-crazy Deloris, now known as Sister Mary Clarence, undertakes the mother superior's suggestion to aid the cathedral's unimpressive choir in bettering its singing technique. Armed with an innate soulfulness of voice and personality, Deloris embarks to fine-tune the chorus of discordant singers, making this Christmas a true season of miracles for them, while receiving an unexpected gift herself.

Although beginning her portrayal in a rather subdued manner, Ta'Rea Campbell soon brought a consistently robust and feisty soul to her Deloris, while revealing tenderness within her character as Deloris grows closer to her adoring cloistered sisters. Campbell's soulful vocal performance also lent a substantial amount of electricity and vitality to the production, especially her rendition of "Raise Your Voice," in which Deloris summons the hidden talents of the timid and untrained sisters.

Hollis Resnik's poised and warmly voiced Mother Superior provided the production with a striking sense of elegance, while her plainly pointed, yet still gracefully spoken, remarks against Campbell's worldly Deloris also supplied the musical with a sparkling sense of humor. Additionally, Resnik exposed a gratifying amount of profound emotion in her momentous rendition of Mother Superior's confessional ballad "Haven't Got a Prayer." The bubbly, uncontainable joy of Florrie Bagel's Sister Mary Patrick, the adorable shyness and humility of Lael Van Keuren's Sister Mary Robert and the unabashed crustiness of Diane J. Findlay's rap-savvy Sister Mary Lazarus each further enlivened the production with their unique and equally endearing personalities.

E. Clayton Cornelious' characterization of Eddie Souther, Deloris' former schoolmate now on Philadelphia's police force, displayed an enormous amount of skittish charm as he re-encountered Deloris, his prevailing schoolboy and now adulthood crush. Cornelious' performance of "I Could Be That Guy," in which Eddie fantasizes about the type of lady-killer he wishes he could be to gain Deloris' love, proved phenomenally amusing and emphasized Cornelious' extensive vocal range and physical adroitness.

Kingsley Leggs' Curtis Jackson, Deloris' notorious boyfriend, enriched the buoyant production with his suave and chilly presence. Leggs, who originated the role of Curtis in the Broadway production of "Sister Act," also incorporated an enjoyably sly and dark humor into his rendition of "When I Find My Baby," in which Curtis, along with his three comical henchmen, divulges his plan to kill Deloris when she is found.

One of the greatest attributes of this production was the palpable joyfulness and liveliness which was not confined merely to the world of the piece but was instead extended outward, especially during the moments within the cathedral's opulent sanctuary, where the audience was invited to become an active part in the "Sister Act" congregation, creating an extremely engaging and unforgettable theatrical experience.

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